A young man’s life-long obsession with Corvettes is fulfilled with a bargain-priced C5 Corvette, plus a LOT of work!
Dateline: 11.13.18 Except where noted, all photos by Chris Draper – Note: This story originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Vette Vues. Since the story was written Chris has rebuilt the top end of his LS1 engine. Chris added the following; a LS6 Z06 intake; Z06 fuel injectors; throttle body; heads; and a Vararam Power Duct. His engine also received new valves and valve springs. When Chris bought the car, it had a performance cam; Kooks Long Tube headers; an X-pipe; and a Cat-Back exhaust. After a dyno tune, Chris’ bolt-on-modified LS1 pulled 508-horsepower at the crank! That is C6 427 LS7 Z06 territory, ladies and gentlemen! GOOD JOB, Chris!
There’s been a meme floating about in auto enthusiasts circles about Corvettes that I have always found to be kind of irritating. It had to have been sometime in the mid-1990s that I started hearing and reading the notion that, “Corvettes are for old guys.” Well I’ve been into Corvettes since I was 10-years old and I wasn’t an “old guy” in the mid-1990s. But there were a few things happening back then that probably added to that silly idea.First, while Corvettes have always been a premium, Cadillac-priced car, in the 1990s, a $30,000 Corvette seemed like a lot of money. The 1990 ZR1 Corvette cost nearly $60,000! There were still a lot of Corvette fans who remember the days when you could get a loaded for bear 1967 L71 427/435 big-block for less than $6,000. Today many of those old classic Vettes from the 1950s and 1960s are selling for almost as much as a new Corvette. In the 1990s mid-to late 1970s Corvettes were shunned as performance dogs. It just seemed like the desirable Corvettes were out of reach for younger buyers and more and more we saw men with silver hair (or no hair) driving Corvettes.
When the C5 came out in 1997, it was a total game-changer. Everything about the car was new and very much improved. Thanks to the all-new LS1 engine, Corvettes had grunt again and were actually quicker and faster than the big-blocks of the loud golden days of performance. As the 2000s rolled on, Corvettes just kept getting better and better, always moving forward, never going backwards. But the prices kept going up. Then an interesting thing began to happen, especially after the arrival of the C7. Prices for early C5 Corvettes were going down, big time! By 2016 and 2017, genuine bargains could be found. And there is nothing inherently wrong with the C5 platform. In many ways, the C6 and C7 aren’t that much different, just more modern and more refined. And there is more “racecar” built into the C6 and C7 Corvettes, thanks to the amazing success of the Corvette Racing Team, which has served as the field-testing and development wing for future Corvettes. Meanwhile, the aftermarket has totally sorted out the LS series of Corvette engines, such that with just some improvement in the intake and exhaust side, any basic C5 Corvette can be turned into a street beast. And you can’t beat the price! Suddenly, it’s 1970 again!Thirty-year old Chris Draper from Arizona has been a car guy since he was a little fellow when his grandmother would take him out shopping every Saturday in her 1978 Z28 Camaro with a 4-speed transmission. (VERY COOL grandma!) Then when Chris was just six-years old, his grandparents got a 1989 Corvette Coupe. Chris recalled how his great grandfather scolded his grandfather for buying such a ridiculous car, that young Chris thought was to-die for! To young Chris, the 1989 Corvette’s flat digital dash just looked like “The Future”. When Chris’ grandma would pick him up at school, all the kids thought he had the coolest grandma in the world! (most of us would agree!) We all have a “Corvette moment” when a Corvette grabbed us and never let go. This was Chris Draper’s Corvette moment when he was just six-years old. By the time Chris was around 8-years-of-age, personal computers were becoming more and more common and Chris’ grandparents had a new-fangled thing called a “dial-up modem” connected to their computer. Chris quickly got up to speed with using the new computer technology and spent hours and hours searching the new World Wide Web, now called, “The Internet” to learn everything he could about Corvettes. Chris wrote letters and emails to General Motors with questions about Corvettes. He hunted down brochures from Chevrolet dealers as soon as they were available and studied them cover-to-cover. Chris wasn’t even a teenager yet when he started to scour the new Corvette forums that were popping up. While in the 6th grade, at the young age of 11, Chris wrote a research paper on the history of the Corvette. Not long after, Chris started his own Corvette website, www.corvette-info-center.com. The site is still up and Chris apologizes for not having updated it for a few years, but he’s been a busy guy the last few years, as you will see. When Facebook came online, Chris Draper was there with his ”Corvette Info Center” FB page. This has recently been changed to “My Corvette Life” to match Chris’ YouTube Channel. In 2005 Chris’ grandparents traded in what was by that time, their “old” 1989 Corvette on a new 2005 Mustang, but fortunately, they got over that “Mustang thing” in less than a year. In 2006 Chris’ grandparents let him (now 17 years old) fill out the order form for their new 2006 Corvette Coupe. Soon after, his grandfather joined a local Corvette club and Chris would attend the club meetings on Sundays. Sometimes, his grandfather would let Chris drive the new Corvette. By this time, Chris had a 1995 Camaro (a very nice first ride for a 17-year-old young man) that earned him his first speeding ticket. (Are we surprised? Been there, done that!) From hanging with the Corvette club folks (I’m sure that Chris was the only person they knew that had his own website!) Chris befriended a couple that let him take their 2006 Corvette Convertible to his Junior Prom. The following year, Chris’ grandfather let him take his 2006 Corvette Coupe to the senior prom with his high school sweetheart and future bride! You can clearly see how all of this is cementing “Corvette” into Chris’ heart and soul. It should be no surprise that Chris is a big Corvette Racing Team fan. Corvettes and Racing, as Forest Gump would say, “go together like peas and carrots!” It was around the year 2000 that Chris first saw the C5-R Corvette Racing Team’s all-out racecar. Finally, Chevrolet was solidly behind racing Corvettes and the car looked like the genuine bad-ass that it was. Now Chris had another facet of the world of Corvettes to assiduously follow. In 2009 when GM was going through bankruptcy, funding for Eddie Jaboure’s BadBoyVettes.com was cut off. (Jaboure was also the creator of the famed “Jake” Corvette Racing mascot). Chris reached out to Jaboure to help keep the website afloat. Since the beginning of the 2012 racing season at the 12 Hours of Sebring, Chris Draper has written every article at www.BadBoyVettes.com. The site is totally dedicated to reporting all news concerning the Corvette Racing Team. There’s also a large collection of Corvette Racing videos, photos, Jake images, and photo albums of really cool street Vettes. Chris has done a super job with the site. Kudos to you, Chris.
Chris graduated from college in 2011 with a degree in CAD Design and Construction Management. The economy was not in good shape, but Chris was able to get a job with a construction company in the Phoenix area, close to where he lives. Then in 2013 Chris married his high school sweetheart, yes, the same gal he took to two proms in Corvettes! With the age of 30 closing in, Chris’ goal was to get a Corvette before he turned the big “THREE-OH!” After all, he had only been into Corvettes for nearly 25 years at that point! When it comes to Corvettes, one could not be more studied on “what to buy on a budget” than Chris Draper. He’d been doing his homework for a long time and knew from his studies that in today’s market, C5 Corvettes offer the best “bang for the buck”. There are stacks of C5s that owners don’t want any more because they want the newer Corvettes. All Corvettes seem to suffer this fate. The best example of this is the 1984-1985 Corvettes. In their day they were heralded as “The Best Vette Yet!” Today, you can get a 1984 Corvette for less than $5,000!
Chris’ hunt did not take long. In October 2017 he located a white 1998 Coupe with 110,000 miles for sale in Twentynine Palms, California, which was for Chris and his wife, about a four-hour drive. The car is mechanically sound, was really grubby, but had a nice array of performance parts that Chris would have added anyway. The 1998 Corvette had a Vararam Ram Air Intake, a performance camshaft, Kooks Long Tube Headers, an X-Pipe, and Cat-Backs. The suspension had been upgraded to C6 Z06 shocks, C6 Z51 sway bars, was lowered 1-1/2-inches, and had black Z06 wheels and Z06 size tires. That’s one heck of a good start!
The owner was asking $9,000 for the car and Chris countered with an offer of $8,000, based on the Kelly Blue Book estimated value. The seller agreed. But while test driving the car the Check Engine light came on, so they took the car to an Auto Zone store to get a diagnosis. The issue was a clutch sensor. The seller had the receipt showing that that issue had been fixed two weeks before, so the seller took the $250 out of the price and the car was Chris’ first Corvette for just $7,750!
We should back up and mention that in 2008 Chris launched his YouTube Channel, “My Corvette Life” that mostly covered Corvette history and Corvette racing. In October 2017 when Chris started his Corvette hunt, he started a new Playlist on his YouTube Channel called, “C5 Corvette Videos” that chronicle his C5 Corvette adventure. That’s how I discovered Chris’ “My Corvette Life” YouTube Channel when I started my C5 hunt. Chris’ videos are totally engaging and brutally honest. He shares his hunt, when he looked at the car, when he drove the car home and how he called his grandfather on the road during a pit stop, and after he got the car home. The car was a grubby mess, but Chris was able to look past the dirt and grime and start the process of bringing his 1998 Corvette Coupe back to life. The car was a good candidate to become a racecar and would have been stripped, cut up, and modified for racing. That’s not a “bad” thing, but it’s nice to see street Corvette survivors. As of this writing (early July 2018) Chris has 50 YouTube videos that walk his viewers, step-by-step through his build experience. It is a delightful journey! His YouTube Channel also has nearly 200 other videos, including; Ride-Alongs, Vlog videos, Racing videos, and Road Trip videos.
In one of Chris’ videos posted in late June 2018 he said that his 1998 Corvette was pretty much complete. Veterans of performance project cars know that rarely are cars such as this ever 100% done; maybe 99.5% because there’s always some little thing that needs attention. With the mods that came with the car when Chris bought it, plus a lot of enhancing on his part, his 1998 LS1 has plenty of grunt and makes sweet thunder. And for Chris, he doesn’t need an 800-horsepower beast. His 1998 Corvette Coupe is the fulfillment of a life-long dream.
The teachable moment with Chris Draper’s “My Corvette Life” journey is this. Attention Millennials! You don’t have to spend $60,000 or more for a Corvette, you can have one for a fraction of the price of a new Corvette. And then, you too will have a Vette! – Scott